The Easy Way to Kill Your Airfreight Product? 

It’s no secret that the air cargo industry continues to be in the doldrums and that worldwide purchasing power has stagnated to such an extent that all sectors, maritime, air and land transport are reporting falling figures.

Who will prevail in the end – LH mgmt or pilot union VC?  Picture: hs
Who will prevail in the end – LH mgmt or pilot union VC? Picture: hs

All the more reason one would think, for airline staff to continue doing all possible to keep their business moving and ready for better times.
Needless to say, most are dedicated and making their own sacrifices in order to try and ensure job stability and enhance company bottom lines.

However, many critics of the airline industry are not so much involved in attacking management procedures, although there are carriers where one must wonder whether their leaders still even know whether they have an air cargo arm.

Defending traditional privileges despite profound changes
No - the criticism is more and more directed towards a small group of highly paid employees and an even smaller union set-up, who on the face of it seem to have no real interest whether or how their company will be able to continue in the future.

We emphasize – “on the face of it”
The pilots of a few traditional European carriers and their unions are coming under more and more pressure as to what the travelling public and the shipping industry see as “having to return to normality.”
Times have changed and airlines such as Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and a few others are having to drastically rethink their future strategies in order to keep abreast of the ever changing market scenario.

“Put our own house in order”
A few years back, Lufthansa managers would readily blame their Middle Eastern competitors for falling revenues and profits within the airline.
This method of thinking has thankfully been dropped when one or two of the top men stated that “we should stop blaming the competition for our woes and look at ways of keeping ourselves in the business.”

For example, Lufthansa Cargo’s present and past management introduced their 2020 program with the aim of enhancing their business model, getting nearer to the customer and most importantly, keeping costs at a level where they can stay online as a cargo carrier.

Is all of this now in danger?
Probably so, as is with the case of the Air France-KLM cargo business.
The thirteen LH pilot strikes of the past 18 months have cost the carrier heavily.
Public trust in the carrier’s passenger and cargo segment has seemingly dropped considerably.
The new cargo set-up - LCCneo has been put on ice and probably won’t become reality.
It is being said that LH Cargo’s option on a further five Boeing 777 freighters, which they definitely need to replace the expensive MD-11Fs, is also now very much endangered.
Why? - Simply because the red line is being drawn on future investments and it seems that the cargo arm of the carrier is being hit hardest so far.

Roller-coaster ride
It’s not just the enormous costs involved due to the pilot strikes that are affecting the cargo product. The worldwide economy is presently riding a “roller-coaster” and the political uncertainty is making it become worse.

Therefore, in our view, all the more reason for responsible managers such as the pilots and their unions, to finally come to terms with the carrier, knowing full well that the demands of a few, no matter how much they may think they are realistic, become a real basis for constructive discussions to secure the future of the carrier(s) and their staff as a whole.

AF and their pilots – a difficult relationship
Air France and KLM face the same problem although one could argue that the demise of the Franco-Dutch carrier‘s cargo product lies mainly with mismanagement over the past years.
The pilot’s demands, especially those at Air France have not helped the financially hard hit carrier to get its feet back on the ground.
It seems however that the pilots union has or will now come to terms with the management and hopefully for them, open a new way of going forward.

Could this be a signal for Lufthansa?
Fact is that the August cargo figures show the carrier as having flown 149,000 tons which represents -4% on the same period last year. The cargo load factor dropped by 5% down to 61 percent.
Let’s not forget that a large share of the cargo flown by the German national carrier is in the belly holds of their long haul passenger fleet.
The latest strike held last week did not affect the LH Cargo freighter fleet, where it seems all flights operated as scheduled.
That makes one wonder how much real support there is from the pilots as a whole for the demands which are being pushed by the pilots union (Vereinigung Cockpit - VC).
A comparatively small union making such high demands for so few.
Does that really make sense and ensure job security for all the employees?

Union vs union
The cabin crew union (UFO) heavily criticized the actions of the VC and demanded them to stop their strike activities because this in their view really endangers the job security of the cabin personnel.
In addition UFO announced that they would consider giving pilots the opportunity to join their union which so far they were denied. This could maybe result in a membership battle between VC and UFO.
It remains to be seen what influence this might have on future discussions between management and their crews.

John Mc Donagh 

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